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༻Chapter Nine༺


After such a long day, I mostly find it rather easy to fall asleep, aside from a small phrase which occasionally harasses me.

“Since your wife here—”

Wife! To think, people already believe we are married! Wait, already…?

Perhaps it is a logical conclusion; a grown man and woman traveling together, that clearly do not appear to be related at all…ah, surely I would assume the same. But surely, it feels so strange; and yet, even so—

And as those thoughts continue, I eventually drift to the land of sleep. That is, until nearby rustling jars me awake.

Half conscious, I slightly open my eyes. Even shrouded in darkness, I can still see Hikaru awake, walking away from me—once or twice he glances back and almost out of instinct, my eyes abruptly shut each time. Spying upon him in such a manner feels wrong…and yet, curiosity grips me. What is he doing?

After he walks some distance away, I sit up and see him…bow to his knees? It reminds me of the first day we spent together, when I caught him conversing with a faerie. Yet, while he always appears rather deferential to them, he has never fully bowed in a manner such as this…

 Now I am even more overcome with desire to get closer, discover what precisely is happening…yet even so, I already pry into his life far too excessively. Even if curiosity haunts me like a specter, I do not want to betray his trust. And so, I merely lower myself to the grass once more, and gaze upon the starry sky.

“Suzette? Are you awake?” Now, I see him stand over me; even in the shadows, I can see the worry on his face…

“…Yes, I am,” I reply softly, slowly sitting up once more.

“You saw everything, didn’t you?”

“I…” I pause for a moment, unsure if I should tell the truth, or pretend I had not seen a thing. But if it is his trust I wish to preserve—

“I had seen you walk over; but I did not follow, or hear you. Your movement had just awoken me…”

“It’s all right,” he sighs heavily, crossing his arms “I know you’re just saying that for my sake. You can tell the truth.”

“That truly is the truth!” I exclaim, a bit irritated that even my attempt at honesty is interpreted as a lie.

“You genuinely didn’t? You heard nothing of what I said?” he asks, now looking more surprised, yet oddly relieved.

“I wished to, admittedly…but no, I did not follow you or anything of that nature. Surely I peer into your life too frequently as it is…I am sorry, Hikaru.” Gently, he sits in the grass beside me.

“You don’t have to apologize, Suzette…actually, mâzjêr, thank you.”

“What for?”

“I’m not often allotted that much respect,” he says. I cannot help but wonder how he can say something so sad with a grin…

“It is just basic courtesy,” I reply.

“With who I am, and what I do, even that’s a rare gift. Most just view me as wicked, or insane…”

“Admittedly, for a time I had thought you were the latter…” I mutter under my breath, but still he hears it.

“Do you now?” I shake my head no.

“It still seems rather odd to me, but clearly there is something to what you do.”

“Being odd isn’t so bad, is it?” he says, “Even you’re a bit odd, I think—erm…please don’t take that the wrong way.”

Is…is Hikaru of all people calling me odd?

“You think am odd?” I attempt not to be offended, but unfortunately that is not so.

“For someone of your standing…if a noblewoman leaving her marriage to travel with some peasant so she can start a bakery isn’t odd, it’s not particularly normal, is it?” I sit there for a moment, pondering. He is not wrong; but also—

“I would not call you a peasant, Hikaru.”

“Well, I wasn’t born dignified and I’m certainly not now.”

“No, that is not what I meant; I mean—“ I sigh. “You are not lowly, just because you do not have a prestigious name, or wealth—well, I suppose you are wealthy in a sense, but—!” he chuckles, as I hopelessly fail in choosing my words.

“I understand, no need to worry.”

“Hopefully you know I truly do mean it, even if in the past I have said certain things—“ Though I tend to attempt not to think of this, the more I do, the more guilt overcomes me…looking back, I wonder how often I have belittled him without even attempting to.

Suddenly, his expression grows rather serious.

“Suzette, it’s fine. Honestly,” he says, and seemingly without thought he grasps my hand. In spite of myself, I grip it tight. “You have more important things to be worrying about. If I’m truly upset with you, you’ll know.

“So…let’s just try to continue having a good journey, all right?”

For a moment I merely stare at him, flabbergasted, before at last merely smiling.

“Yes, I would enjoy that,” I reply softly.

“Well!” he exclaims, abruptly pulling both his hand and face away. Even in the dark, one can see the color of his face grow warmer. “Anyways…thanks for respecting my privacy. I do appreciate it.”

“It is no problem,” I reply, and he chuckles at having his line stolen.

“It’s getting quite late now, so...somêl amé, Suzette.”

“Tsiâ mo, Hikaru.” And thus he gets back up, returning to the spot he lay before.

I as well lay back down, lulling back to sleep once again, thinking upon the lingering warmth still within my palm.


{Before I realize it, the sun flickers through the window, pouring its pounding light upon my face. It feels like I barely slept at all, but then again, it is Shovy-Viosne, the middle of spring. The night’s growing increasingly shorter, less time to sleep…but that also means more time to work. And so, after going through my normal morning routine, I go to my easel and begin my work once more: a halfway painted landscape of the view from my window.

It’s…a rather dull subject, to be sure. Personally, I’d much rather be painting portraiture—human subjects are far more interesting! But alas, I’ll never be anything “great” if I can’t paint just about anything; I suppose these people would look even better if they don’t just merely exist in a void. And my skill at painting landscapes leaves much to be desired…wait, isn’t that the opposite of how this usually goes? Ah, no matter. That’s why I’m up at the crack of dawn…maybe I’ll become good eventually.

For hours and hours I work, not even taking a break to do anything else. Slowly but surely I grow sore, a tad tired even though I have not been up for long…but, a couple hours before midday, I sigh relieved, as close to finished as I can get for today. Admittedly, I’m not particularly happy with it, but I suppose if my master approves I won’t mind. If I lived with him like a normal apprentice, I would just show him now…but, I know he is too busy to come over, and it would be a bit unwise to move this now. Oh well; the added hassle is worth it, if my mother does not have to be alone…

After painting I go to the kitchen to prepare some tea, and once I return I sit and gaze out the window once more. Honestly, I’m tired of looking at this street; but, at least now I can focus upon those passing by, instead of the boring, straight buildings. There are not many out at the moment, mostly just my neighbors whom I already know…aside from one person. I see him walking from down the street. That mail boy…

For about a year now, I’ve noticed him making the rounds nearly every morning. Since I live in a building with many tenants, there is always someone getting a letter or some such thing here; and so, that usually means his visit as well. But the odd thing is, I’ve never seen him anywhere else, at any other time. This town isn’t especially small, but I have a tendency to at least recognize faces even if no names are attached to them—and I’m sure I’d recognize a boy, seemingly younger than even I, sporting bright white hair.

Since I’ve already finished the only thing I set to accomplish today, why not do something a bit different?

Quickly I finish the tea and leave my apartment, swiftly making way down the stairs. Just as I walk out the door of the building, I notice him sorting through all the mail, putting it into various boxes—perfect!

“Ashon bon!” I exclaim, but he doesn’t react at all. Ah, it seems I need to take a more direct approach.

“You, with the white hair!” Now he freezes entirely, before slowly looking up at me, bug-eyed.

“…Me?” he asks timidly.

“Yes, you; ashon bon!” For a moment he stares at me seemingly dumbfounded, as though we do not even speak the same language.

“Sâlêzj…” he mumbles after a moment, before returning to sifting through the mail again.

“What are you doing there?”

“My job.”

“Is that all you do?” Slowly, he side-eyes me suspiciously. From this angle, I notice for the first time that that is the only eye he has, the covering of his hair upon face seemingly being a deliberate attempt to hide this fact…and for a moment, he almost seems menacing. But still—

“What does it matter?” he asks quietly.

“Every day I see you delivering mail, but I’ve never seen you anywhere else, so I was curious…” This isn’t going like I had planned…

“I-I don’t really go around town, aside to work,” he says. “Occasionally I go to the park, but…that’s all.”

“Oh, I go there all the time!” I say. “I’m surprised I’ve not seen you, if that’s the case.”

“Well, I do try my best to avoid people…”

“How will you ever meet anyone that way?”

“I don’t.”

“Oh, then…do you have friends from school?” He chuckles.

“If I could afford that, I wouldn’t be here right now…but I can read and do some math at least, so that’s all the really matters.”

“Then who are your friends…?” He sighs, and glances over at me with a clearly hurt, sorrowful look.

“It doesn’t matter, all right?” For a moment his voice grows an edge, but just as quickly it returns to being meek. “I don’t really do the whole ‘friendship’ thing, okay? So…please just let me be. I’m not done yet.” And he goes back to sorting.

“…You seem upset about that,” I say, perhaps unwisely.

“It really doesn’t matter,” he mumbles, seemingly on the verge of tears now. “I’m leaving now, vwâ.” Abruptly he turns around, and begins walking away—

“Wait!” To my surprise, he stops.

“What is it now?” I hear him mutter, voice shaking slightly.

“If you’re so sad about not having a friend, then why not let me be your friend?”

“You barely know me…”

“And you know less about me, but friendships don’t just pop into existence, do they?”

“You don’t have you pity me. I’m…fine. I’ve accepted no one will ever care about a freak like me, it’s okay.”

“Even if I don’t know you, I cared enough to come out here and talk to you. I wasn’t even planning on leaving otherwise, you know.” He turns his head back my way, body standing solidly in place like a marble statue.

And so, I hold out my hand and grin.

“My name’s Alex. And yours?” For a few second he looks upon my hand with hardly a shred of emotion on his face, before at last turning around hesitantly shaking it in return, and practically whispering his own name in response.

“Hikaru; i-it might be hard to remember, but—”

“Since you said you like the park, you want to hang around with me there later?”

“Are you…sure?” he asks nervously.

“Erm, of course you don’t have to, if you aren’t comfortable—”

“No, no…I…think I’d like that,” he answers, and for the first time I see him smile, however subtly. I’m almost taken aback, by how sweet it is…

“I still have an hour or two of work,” he says, “But I can see you when I’m finished.”

“Well, I’ll see you then, Hikaru!” Now suddenly, he’s positively beaming.

“Uh…tsiâ mo!” And with that, he scurries away to continue his work.

What an interesting person…yet he appears so sad as well. Being albino, and seemingly not being from Soleia either if his name is anything to go by…it seems to have had such an effect on him. It’s hard to imagine not having any friends; I don’t have many people I’m very close to, but I still have some. But he surely seems younger than me, so hopefully he’s not living on his own, and has some family… But even if he is, maybe he won’t have to stay lonely much longer.

I return to the apartment to relax for a little while, but scarcely ten minutes later I receive a knock at the door.

“Alex, are you there?” I hear a familiar voice ask on the other side.

“Oh!” Suddenly I hop up, and rush towards the door. “Sâlêzj Ines, hello! I wasn’t expecting you here!”

“Are you busy?” she asks in her typical subdued manner…although somehow, she seems even quieter than usual.

“Not at the moment; is everything going all right?”

“Oh yes, I just thought since we’ve hardly any time together recently, it would be nice to see one another for a while.”

“Then come right in!” As I say this she smiles gracefully, before gently sitting upon the loveseat behind me. Soon, I take my spot beside her.

“Please forgive me for being away so much recently,” she says, “I’ve been a little…caught in my studies.”

“Have you read anything good lately?”

“The ‘classics,’ but nothing actually interesting,” she replies with a giggle. “For now I have little choice in the matter, but such is life I suppose.”

“Sometimes you have to focus on things you don’t really want to, to get better…” I try to reassure her, thinking to this morning’s painting. “Ah, maybe someday I can make enough that you can just spend every day reading what you enjoy, without having to worry about teaching!”

“Isn’t it a little too early to be thinking about marriage, Alex?” I look away, blushing.

“…Is it?”

“We’re both still pretty young, have other responsibilities right now…”

“Yes, but…in a couple years I’ll become a journeyman, and you shall graduate—that’s not too far, is it?”

“I suppose not…” she whispers, voice slightly croaked.

“Ines…have I done something wrong?” She looks up at me, not frowning or crying…yet something still seems to be bothering her. I can feel it. But what?

“Not at all. Pshyku.” Slowly, I put my arm around her.

“It’s okay,” I say. “If it makes you feel better, we can just not talk about it until that time comes…is that good?” She nods.

I lean in to give her a kiss; but as I do so, she merely sits still, not reciprocating at all. Abruptly I pull back, jarred by the unease of it all.

For a while, the two of us merely sit huddled together…and yet, no warmth can be felt. Not too long ago, everything was well between us…so what has changed? Did something happen with her? Or am I just a bad partner…?

Ah…but, perhaps she’s merely worried about her studies. She is right. We’re young, we have other things to worry ourselves over. Maybe I really am just overthinking everything—}


Abruptly the memory ends, and my eyes burst wide open.

It…it happened again!

That these dreams appear to be haunting me is already awful enough, although in this moment, that is neither the worst thing, nor what had awoken me. That lovely distinction would go towards the cascade of rain pouring down upon me. Hurriedly I stand up, but quickly grow disoriented in the dark downpour.

“Suzette!” I hear Hikaru cry out for me, and scarcely before I can turn to face him, I feel him grabbing my hand and pulling me close—

Immediately, without thought, I go limp against him. I shiver almost violently in the still cool night…but his warmth makes it bearable. After a moment, however, I notice that something is rather off. It is not raining anymore. And yet, I still hear it loudly crashing down…

“I’m sorry, Suzette,” he whispers, “This was the easiest way I—”

“No, no…this is nice,” I reply without thinking.

“W-well,” he stutters, “You can walk on your own now. You should be protected.” For a moment I stay in place, before slowly drifting from his side. As I do so, no rain hits me. But as I look about me, even in the dark, I can still see the rain everywhere…outside of a little pocket of dryness, occupied only by him and myself.

“So this is one of your…”

“I’m happy to see you’re getting more used to it.”

“I suppose so.” In truth, I would scarcely say I have “gotten used” to anything; but at this point, everything is so strange that this feels only mildly out of the ordinary, somehow.

“What would you like to do?” he asks. “Anywhere here is surely wet by now, so it may do us well if we look for a drier spot…”

“That sounds pr-preferable—” I am barely able to get the word out, before loudly sneezing. Has this weather already made me ill?

But, considering I am still shivering intensely…

“Come on,” he says softly, putting a hand on my shoulder, “Let’s go find somewhere better than here, at least.” Even in the darkness, I can barely make out his pale, lined face, smiling softly. Admittedly, it is rather soothing…

And so, the two of us slowly traverse through the damp, muddy meadow. For a while, we say not a word. Yet, although the rain has subsided slightly, it is still rather noisy, and not at all peaceful. Along with the gross sloshing of our now completely caked shoes, and the cold dampness of my clothes…oh, it is such a dreadful experience. I can hardly focus on anything else.

“Hikaru, how long should it take for us to reach shelter?” He pauses.

“…A while.”

“Well…” My voice drifts off, as I attempt to think of something to discuss, to maybe distract from the burning cold drenching my skin. Immediately, my mind begins thinking of that dream; but, I do not have the energy to even begin so much as thinking of that at the moment.

“Do tell me more about your gods,” I say, “Since that appears to be a rather special subject for you.”

“It’s also a vast one…”

“Then…how did you become so interested in such matters? If you do not mind sharing. It is something to pass that time…”

“It was so long ago now—I suppose it started when I came to Soleia. The man we lived with had an enormous library, so once I could read, that’s about all I did…I guess I found something there, but I really don’t remember.

“When we moved to a different town, I often went to the temple when there weren’t any services. The priests were kind, in spite of everything. They said no one is wicked, just by how they were born…considering how I turned out, maybe they were wrong.” For a moment, I merely go silent.

It is loathsome when he says things of that nature…he always appeared so assured in himself, and yet the more time we spend together, the more I wonder how much of that is truth, and how much is façade.

My, my…we seems so wholly unlike one another, and yet the more time we spend together, the more those differences too appear as just a façade. What a thought…

“Please cease saying things like that…” I mutter.

“Hmm?” He looks down towards me, entirely confused. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Y-you’re always so harsh on yourself,” I stutter, still shivering from the wretched rain. “Saying that you are wicked, a peasant, or—”

“Knowing my place in the world doesn’t mean I hate myself.”

“If you so say,” I sigh. And the two of us continue onwards in silence, as the rain finally begins to dwindle away.


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